Didn't Fresno State just win its fourth straight conference game and move closer, at 5-3, to a post-season bowl berth?
Well... yeah, I guess they did...
But struggling to beat Utah State, in their own house – that's sort of like kissing your sister – not very sexy…strangely unsatisfying.
1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
I am referring to the defense, of course. In the first half, Fresno State defense let Utah State shove the ball right down its throats.
The Aggies just pounded the crap out of the ‘Dogs, to the tune of 363 yards and 27 points. The ‘Dogs were well on the way, if things continued, to having a lower-tier conference foe rack up a 700-yard, 54-point massacre in Bulldog Stadium.
Then, the Jekyll & Hyde thing happened.
A different defense came onto the field, after the halftime, and literally shut the Aggie offense down. Coach Pat Hill and Coach Randy Stewart must have roasted some Bulldog backsides with a flamethrower in the locker room. It worked. USU scored zero "0" points after the break and they were held to exactly 140 yards of total offense for the last two quarters. Now that was a turnaround.
But that first half haunts my mind like a Halloween ghost.
The defense was dominated. Even after they righted the ship and won the game, FS still gave up over 500 yards. They struggled... and it was an ugly struggle, at that.
The defense is...well....it's porous. Yeah, that's the word. It has a lot of holes. The ‘Dogs have trouble allowing big, rambling, gashing runs and returns. It is troubling.
2. The pass rush and QB pressure
Don't get me wrong, the defense is better than it was, last year, especially the run D.
But, overall on defense, they still struggle. This year the D has made only a comparative improvement, and that compared to a defensive nightmare that was 2008...
The numbers don't lie. Yes, Logan Harrell did have a sack Saturday afternoon, of a very formidable, very mobile quarterback – Diondre Borel (one hell of a football player). But even with that sack, FS is still ranked 114th out of 120 teams, nationally, in quarterback sacks! That is a glaring problem.
By the way, FS has done a little better on interceptions but still struggle in that category, as well. The ‘Dogs are 88th in the country, still way, way below average. Of course, you already know that quarterback pressure and defensive back effectiveness (and therefore INT numbers) are all intertwined.
3. Chris Carter and Lorne Bell
These two guys are the most spirited, hardnosed and effective defenders. They combined for 19 tackles between them. Without those two players, bluntly stated, FS probably would have lost that football game. The ‘Dogs simply can not do without them.
4. Ryan Mathews
Is this the best running back in the WAC? Duh. But, in the nation? Well... maybe.
His stellar national numbers (now at 1,311 yards thru eight games) are impressive, without question. He is averaging nearly 30 yards per game more than the No. 2 guy, from Marshall, and his nearest pursuer in total yards rushing is Ben Tate, from Auburn, at 1,067.
But Mathews has racked up those numbers over at least three teams (San Jose, NMSU and Hawaii) that are cellar dwellers, nationally, in terms of run defense. True, he did drop 234 on Boise State ( a MAJOR accomplishment) He ran for 107 at Camp Randall and 148 versus a very solid Cincinnati defense. But those WAC games count against him in national recognition - especially in the minds of draft experts.
A great argument can be made that Mathews still averaged about 160 yards per game right through those three tough early games. It can also be mentioned that he sat out several quarters (a full game versus Cal Davis would have produced a 400-yard game), and that is true, as well.
But compare the above mentioned Ben Tate, for example. Never seen him play, but he has piled up 1000+ yds against the likes of LSU, Tennessee and West Virginia and full slate of SEC foes. That is decidedly not the WAC, and that is being factored in.
BTW, I think Mathews displayed real toughness on Saturday and may have improved his NFL stock.
He absorbed a mega hit to his ribcage. He went to the sidelines, was checked for broken ribs (!), and went back in, ultimately to gain 185 yards.
Have you ever had a broken rib? Or even a cracked rib?
I have, and it was shown to me on x-ray. It only hurts when you breathe. Laughing, coughing and sneezing are terminally painful.
Please note: Ryan Mathews had 145 yards rushing in the second half. That was huge. What a weapon.
Here's a confession. Part of me wants him to do awesome for the rest of the season, reach 2,000 yards and be drafted No. 28 by New England, or some other cool NFL team. But the other part of me, my evil twin, wants him to be downgraded because of the WAC, be projected (as Mel Kiper says) into the 4th round, at best, so he refuses to go pro this year. That would mean he comes back, next year, to the best offensive line EVER at Fresno State for a season of my dreams...
5. Seyi Ajirotutu & Ryan Colburn & Kevin Goessling
The man with the strange name had seven catches for 124 yards, good stuff, nearly 18 yards per snag.
Meanwhile Ryan Colburn did okay. He was not great, but not bad going 17-of-27 for 256 yards (63%) and one touchdown with one interception. Loved that 46-yard bomb, early on. That was sweet.
Lastly, Kevin Goessling is 10-of-11 on field goals, now? Wow. Guess Pat Hill was right about him. Another 50-yarder, yesterday.
Redroadster is highly regarded attorney in the Central Valley, a loyal Bulldog fan, and a regular poster/contributor on BarkBoard.com. Check in time to time for his take on games and other Bulldog athletic events in his View from the Roadster.
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